Wishwas: providing opportunities for low-income immigrant women in NYC

A conversation with founder Nivedita Chandrappa

Wishwas came to existence in 2011 while trying to find cultural solutions to victims of domestic violence within South Asian communities. Many come from conservative families that don’t believe in educating women as result of which, many are married at young age with little formal education or skills training.

Located in Queens, New York, we teach women professional sewing skills from beginner to advanced levels. The program runs for 9 months and we would like to create entrepreneurs among the trainees to give them some form of financial control in their lives. We thought of getting the women out of their homes to get them involved in a dialogue through sewing, which they were keen to learn.

Wishwas also has a coop program that seeks to take advantage of the new thrust on local businesses and provide a sewing cooperative for local designers. Cottage industries within immigrant communities is an old concept, with new immigrants doing piece work and lace work at home, taking advantage of skills and networks already familiar to them. Likewise we want to provide opportunities for the women who participate in the coop to develop skills in sewing, as well as bookkeeping and marketing, to enable them to have the flexibility to work around their personal schedules.

One of our biggest challenges is working through some of the cultural norms that many of the women are bound by, where the expectation is often to serve in a caregiving role. Hence more often than not they can’t really become bread earners and cannot pursue their own dreams and often drop out of the program.

In order to address this, one of things we would like to do is incorporate the workers into a cooperative this year, in the hopes that that the group accountability will empower them to remain with the program.

In the year ahead we plan to continue to research the needs of the community to provide programs that meet the women where they are.

For more information about Wishwas, please visit: http://wishwas.org

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